Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Photos of extrajudicial killings banned

14 April 2010

Photos of extrajudicial killings banned

Art can be a powerful medium for ideas and information, to challenge repression. A photo exhibit about extrajudicial executions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was banned on 22 March, report Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and ARTICLE 19. The ban was revoked a week later after the gallery owner, who received death threats, appealed the decision in court.

The exhibit, "Crossfire," by Shahidul Alam, features photographs and installations relating to alleged extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a military-dominated crime-fighting force. Officers often say these are "crossfire" killings in which they act in self defense or to stop alleged criminals from escaping.

Since RAB was established in 2004 it has killed more than 500 people. No one has been prosecuted for the killings. Many victims of the "cross-fire" killings have instead either been tortured to death or summarily shot. At least four journalists have been tortured by RAB members since 2007, says RSF.

Drik gallery owner and well-known photographer, Shahidul Alam, received death threats days after the exhibit was shut down. Police surrounded the gallery until they were ordered by the government to withdraw on 31 March.

ARTICLE 19 featured the Dhaka exhibit in the March edition of its "Artist Alert", which highlights cases of artists worldwide whose right to freedom of expression has been trampled. The bulletin also mentions the award-winning Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi who was detained along with his wife, daughter and 15 guests by Iranian security on 1 March. His wife, daughter and guests have been released, but Panahi continues to be held incommunicado in Tehran's Evin prison.

Friday, April 2, 2010

China: US companies refuse to bow to online surveillance

31 March 2010

US companies refuse to bow to online surveillance

US Internet companies withdraw their business from Chinese censors;  foreign journalists' email accounts hacked.
US Internet companies withdraw their business from Chinese censors; foreign journalists' email accounts hacked.
via IPI

Two US companies are defying Chinese censors. Internet company GoDaddy announced on 24 March that it will no longer sell websites with Chinese domain names because of the extreme controls demanded by Chinese authorities, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Two days earlier, Google confirmed that it would no longer censor the Chinese version of its search engine, report RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch. Google will be redirecting viewers to its uncensored Hong Kong site.

Google also plans to monitor and publicise any attempts at censorship of this site by Chinese authorities. The site has been subjected to intermittent censorship in recent days, but is back to normal. On 12 January, Google first announced that it was going to withdraw from China unless it could operate its search engine free of any kind of censorship or restrictions. The company came to this decision after discovering "highly sophisticated and targeted attacks" on Gmail users who are human rights activists, which were traced back to Chinese hackers.

Two years ago, only five percent of Chinese Internet users were aware that the Web they saw was censored, reports CPJ. But now there is much greater awareness and news reports about Google have acted as a "wake-up call for Chinese netizens." Now, millions of people in China who access Google will be able to see the search results their government does not want them to see.

"Google's decision to offer an uncensored search engine is an important step to challenge the Chinese government's use of censorship to maintain its control over its citizens," said Human Rights Watch.

Chinese authorities have requested that individuals and companies wanting to register a website must now provide them with copies of photo identification and business licences, and fill out and sign forms, explained GoDaddy. The company's existing clients were expected to comply with the rules; only 20 percent provided the documents. "We are concerned about the security of the individuals affected by the new requirements," said GoDaddy. "We are concerned about the chilling effects we believe the requirements could have on new domain name registrations." The Internet company also said it had been targeted by dozens of cyber-attacks this year and blamed Chinese authorities.

More than a dozen Chinese government agencies work to implement laws, regulations, policy guidelines and other legal tools to try to keep information and ideas from the Chinese people, reports Human Rights Watch. Many companies, including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, have supported this system by blocking terms they think the Chinese government would want them to censor.

Meanwhile, the Yahoo! email accounts of at least 10 foreign journalists based in China and Taiwan have been targeted by hackers in recent weeks, reports RSF.


Honduras : Five journalists killed in one month

31 March 2010

Five journalists killed in one month

March has been a deadly month for Honduran journalists, with five  killed.
March has been a deadly month for Honduran journalists, with five killed.
via IPI

In a highway ambush, two journalists were shot to death in eastern Honduras on 26 March, report the Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members. This brings the number of journalists murdered in Honduras this year to five; all killed this past month.

Radio journalists José Bayardo Mairena Ramírez, 52, and Manuel Juárez, 55, had just finished hosting a radio programme and were driving from the city of Catacamas to Juticalpa. Gunmen shot at them from another car, riddling their car with bullets.

Both journalists worked on the program "Así es Olancho" for R.Z. Television's Channel 4, and Radio Excélsior, where Bayardo Mairena was the manager. Bayardo Mairena opposed the 2009 coup d'état and was known for his sympathy to the "resistance" movement, reports ARTICLE 19.

The head of the Honduran Press Association urged President Porfirio Lobo Sosa to "rein in" these killings of journalists, says RSF.

Journalists, human rights defenders and opposition activists have been regularly targeted in the last eight months, says ARTICLE 19, but the situation has especially deteriorated since the swearing-in of President Lobo early this year. Effective legal remedies and protection policies at the national level are lacking.

There have also been threats against the staff of Radio Uno, a privately owned opposition station in San Pedro Sula, reports RSF. Despite being monitored by the army since last June's coup, the station continues to take risks by covering human rights violations.


UN resolution on defamation of religions goes against free speech

31 March 2010

UN resolution on defamation of religions goes against free speech, say IFEX members

Despite protests from 40 IFEX members, UN adopts resolution on  defamation of religions.
Despite protests from 40 IFEX members, UN adopts resolution on defamation of religions.
via Index on Censorship

Forty IFEX members sent a joint statement, coordinated by ARTICLE 19, to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this month to protest resolutions on defamation of religion, arguing that any decision to combat defamation of religions contradicts the right to freedom of expression. The joint action also urged the UNHRC to reject any resolutions to add "complementary standards" to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Instead, IFEX members say that established international human rights guarantees on freedom of expression must be upheld to deal with global challenges of violence, discrimination and hatred on racial and religious grounds.

A separate joint letter coordinated by ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), signed by 47 civil society organisations, including four IFEX members, was also sent to member states of the UNHRC in advance of the meeting on the resolution. It argued that international human rights standards should protect individuals and groups from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. And belief systems should not be shielded from debate or criticism.

Any draft resolution on defamation of religions would be counterproductive to its goals of promoting equality and non-discrimination of individuals on the basis of their religion by supporting state practices which discriminate against religious minorities, dissenting voices and non-believers, says the joint action signed by 40 IFEX members. Efforts to codify defamation of religions will have negative long-term effects on freedom of expression.

In addition, amendments to the ICERD are unnecessary, say the 47 civil society organisations. "What is needed today is appropriate implementation of existing standards and political will to fight discrimination and hatred against individuals or groups, based on their religion." ICERD changes would lead to a binding international agreement on "defamation of religions."

Nonetheless the UN did adopt a resolution on 25 March, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), on "combating defamation of religions," with 20 states voting in favour. This resolution also goes against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which "only prohibits advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence, discrimination and hatred," says the joint letter by the 40 IFEX members.

In related work, on 11 March, ARTICLE 19, Amnesty International, CIHRS and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights submitted a brief to the Indonesian constitutional court, stating that the country's laws, which permit punishing the "abuse or defamation of religions," are contrary to international human rights law. The Indonesian criminal code delivers a five-year prison sentence to anyone who publicly expresses views or engages in actions which are considered "abuse or defamation" of select religions in the country.

And on 10 March, Freedom House held a panel discussion in Geneva with human rights defenders from Indonesia, Nigeria and the United States to discuss options for combating religious discrimination without restricting free speech. Resolutions calling on governments to ban speech considered offensive to some religious believers have been passed each year since 1999, reports Freedom House. The resolutions have not decreased acts of religious discrimination and intolerance, while moderate voices have been ignored in the debate. As well, legal measures to protect religious beliefs from criticism are counterproductive to the goal of promoting religious tolerance.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

UN Human Rights Council: ARTICLE 19 Welcomes Decrease in Support for “Defamation of Religions”

29 March 2010

UN Human Rights Council: ARTICLE 19 Welcomes Decrease in Support for “Defamation of Religions”

Votes at the UN Human Rights Council over the last two days have shown a decrease in support for the concept of “defamation of religions”. ARTICLE 19 joins its voice to those of many civil society organisations around the world who have welcomed this positive move. This latest result further consolidates those observed in 2009 at the Durban Review Conference and the September session of the HRC.

In the vote on the resolution on combating “defamation of religions”, 20 states voted in favour, 17 states voted against and eight states abstained. Three states withdrew their support and six voted against the defamation resolution, including Argentina and Zambia who voted “no” for the first time.

In the run-up to the vote, many governments and non-governmental organisations campaigned against the resolution on the basis that it violates international human rights law on freedom of expression and other rights. While the resolution’s adoption is disappointing, the close vote indicates a significant decrease in the political support for such resolutions over previous years and raises the hope that in the future, a more constructive approach will emerge.

The Human Rights Council also adopted, without a vote, a technical and procedural resolution on the elaboration of complementary standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The resolution underlines “the imperative need for the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the ICERD to elaborate complementary standards to the ICERD in accordance with paragraph 199 of the Durban Programme of Action”. The resolution decides, “to remain seized of this priority issue” and also takes note of the report of the chairperson of the Committee and sets the dates for the Committee’s next session (29 November to 10 December 2010).

The wording of this resolution is a significant improvement on an earlier proposal which requested the committee to elaborate upon additional protocols to the ICERD. Such proposals were intended to lead to the development of a new binding international agreement on “defamation of religions”. In the opinion of many states and non-governmental organisations, long established international human rights guarantees on freedom of expression and equality are adequate to deal with global challenges of violence, discrimination and hatred on racial and religious grounds. The extension of existing norms would do little to prevent these problems, while having a substantial impact on the freedom of expression and religion.


• The following states voted for the resolution on defamation of religions: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and South Africa (20).
• The following states voted against the resolution: Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Zambia (17).
• The following states abstained in the vote: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Japan, Madagascar and Mauritius (8). Angola and Gabon were absent at the vote.
• Letter of the 47 organisations: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/letter-from-civil-society-organizations-to-state-representatives-defamation-.pdf
• IFEX Joint Action statement: http://www.ifex.org/international/2010/03/25/hrc_defamation_ja/
• For more information please contact: Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer sejal@article19.org +44 20 7324 2500

Honduras: Another Two Journalists Killed as Crackdown on Free Expression Intensifies

29 March 2010

Honduras: Another Two Journalists Killed as Crackdown on Free Expression Intensifies

ARTICLE 19 expresses its deep concern at the recent killings of two more journalists – José Bayardo Mairena Ramírez and Manuel Juárez – on 27 March in the northern territory of Honduras. This brings the total number of journalists killed in similar circumstances in Honduras to five.
The killings highlight a severe deterioration in the respect and protection for human rights, including freedom of expression, in Honduras since the Presidential coup of June 2009. Journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition activists have been widely targeted throughout the last eight months but the situation appears to have deteriorated further since the beginning of the year and the swearing-in of Porfirio Lobo Sosa as President.

Both journalists worked for two local radio stations in northern Honduras. Bayardo Mairena was a radio talk host, with more than twenty years’ experience, while Juárez had worked as his assistant for many years. Opposed to the 2009 coup, Bayardo Mairena was known for his sympathy to the “resistance” movement. He had played a significant role in breaking the information monopoly of the pro-coup media last year. Bayardo Mairena´s programmes included a news show “This is Olancho” on Channel 4 RZ, Excelsior Television, where he was also the manager. He was based in Olancho, hometown of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

According to official reports, the car in which both men were travelling was attacked on the road between Juticalpa and Catacamas, about 200 kilometres east of the capital, Tegucigalpa. Local radio stations reported that Bayardo Mairena’s car was shot 21 times.

There have been a number of other events in recent weeks. On 1 March, Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, a journalist based in Tegucijalpa, was shot dead and journalist Karol Cabrera was injured in the same incident. On 11 March, David Meza Montesinos was killed in La Ceiba by a gun shot. On 14 March, in Tocoa Columbus, Nahúm Palacios Arriaga, a journalist and director of Aguan TV Channel 5 was also killed. He had been granted “precautionary measures” by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in August 2009, along with dozens of other Honduran citizens. This is a mechanism to identify individuals at risk in an attempt to prevent them from being further targeted or harmed.

These cases are part of a long list of abuses that have taken place throughout Honduras over the last nine months.

“The similarity in the methods used in these attacks points towards a systemic pattern of repression and is clearly aimed at terrorising those who may be critical of the Government or other powerful players,” comments Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

“We are working under intense pressure our reporters face constant harassment,” explains Johnny Lagos, editor of the opposition newspaper El Libertador. “The opposition press and Hondurans in general are victims of repression and misinformation,” he adds.

In February 2010, President Lobo endorsed the Chapultepec Declaration on Freedom of Expression. However the persistence of the adverse environment for freedom of expression faced by journalists, as well as the constant harassment against human rights activists and social leaders, demonstrates the absence of effective protection policies implemented by the new government.

Effective legal remedies at national level are lacking and there are numerous obstacles to the implementation of protection measures requested by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights. This helps to create a hostile environment for human rights protection, in general, and freedom of the press, in particular.

An amnesty law, like the one proposed by President Lobo, would almost certainly guarantee impunity for perpetrators of abuse and would undermine any attempts at reconciliation in the country.

“For a genuine and enduring process of reconciliation to take place, the investigation and punishment of all human rights violations during the Coup and it its aftermath are essential for establishing a real democratic regime,” comments Callamard.

ARTICLE 19 expresses condolences to the families of all the journalists who have died or been injured needlessly and offers our solidarity to the journalist community.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Honduran State to adequately investigate these cases and to bring the perpetrators to justice. These investigations must take into account the concern that these journalists were killed because of their profession and exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Honduran Government to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and to ensure all the necessary security measures to media workers trying to exercise this right, in accordance with its international human rights obligations.

Furthermore, we call on President Lobo to put the investigation and prosecution of human rights violations at the heart of an inclusive dialogue for national reconciliation, and to adopt all necessary measures to guarantee justice for all victims.

Finally, ARTICLE 19 calls upon the international community to urgently address the situation according to international law. The investigation and punishment of all human rights violations should be a central element for the reincorporation of the Honduran State into the OAS mechanisms.

• For more information, please contact Ricardo González, ricardo@article19.org , +52 55 1054 6500

Three Depressed terrorists

Three Depressed terrorists
Terrorism is inhuman act, an evil concept